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Blog • 23.04.24

Exploring UK Sick Leave Trends

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In 2023, the UK saw a notable increase in sick leave, prompted by various challenges like strikes, rising living costs, and the shift to hybrid work setups. While initial factors such as furlough and remote work influenced absence rates, the continued rise in sickness levels suggests a broader issue impacting industries across the board. Moving forward, we’ll explore how various sectors have been affected differently by the rise in sick leave rates and how our SafeHR software can play a crucial role in addressing these challenges.

Exploring Sick Leave Trends

Sickness absence rates surged from 2021 to 2023, surpassing even the levels observed in 2020 and 2021. While partly attributed to furlough and post-pandemic social distancing, the ongoing rise in sickness rates, exceeding those of 2019, indicates a more profound, long-term impact of the pandemic on workforce health.

Data from over 1,775 small and medium-sized businesses, compiled by Access PeopleHR, revealed a staggering 55% increase in sickness absence rates since 2019. On average, each business recorded 128 sick days in 2023, marking a 6% rise from 2022. These findings underscore the pressing need for proactive management strategies across industries.

Challenges and Impacts Across Industries and Harnessing HR Software for Solutions

Different sectors experienced varying impacts from the surge in sick leave. Real estate, recruitment, and agriculture witnessed significant spikes, reflecting distinct challenges and work environments. For example, real estate saw a 67% rise in sick leave, potentially due to increased face-to-face interactions and post-pandemic hygiene concerns.

It’s essential for employers to proactively identify sickness rates among staff to prevent further escalation. HR systems play a pivotal role in helping advisors make informed decisions, tracking and analysing absence patterns, facilitating targeted interventions, and fostering healthier work environments.

“Encouraging work-life balance, promoting full use of holiday entitlement, and supporting genuine sick days are crucial steps in minimising absenteeism,” says SafeHR Employment Lawyer Helen Hancock. “It’s important to be proactive and actively encourage your employees to use their holiday entitlement each year as opposed to carrying it over or losing it altogether. Taking holiday allows employees to properly recharge both physically and mentally which in turn should lower the need for sickness absences. If an employee is sick, they should not be encouraged to use their holiday entitlement in place of sickness absence as being unwell is not the same as taking a holiday. Also, this practice will mask any sickness absence trends if it is recorded in your HR software as holiday.

Addressing the Challenge

It’s clear that businesses face a multifaceted challenge in managing sick leave effectively. However, with the right strategies and tools, such as SafeHR, they can navigate these challenges and prioritise the well-being of their employees while fostering a resilient workplace culture. Utilising SafeHR can enable you to efficiently and effectively manage absences, identify trends, and collaborate with staff to address underlying issues proactively.

By leveraging insights these insights and implementing proactive measures, you can prioritise employee well-being, boost productivity, and enhance organisational resilience in today’s evolving workplace landscape.


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Our HR consultants can help you to create a sickness absence policy that’s tailored to your requirements and compliant with UK employment law.

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